Sunday Mailbag

October 21st, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

Q:  I wanted my son to follow my love for art & music, but it seems his interest is more on computer games and some sports. Do you encourage or just wish one of your children would follow your footsteps as an illustrator regardless if they would make it as a career or not?

A: I know your exact question is more specifically geared toward my feelings, and I’ll answer that at the end of this post, but this is an interesting general topic. Whenever I am in conversation with someone and they ask “Do you have any kids?”, they always (assuming they know what I do for a living) follow up with a second one: “Do any of them draw/are they artistic?”. People seem very curious to know if there is some form of “art gene” that gets passed down from parent to child.

I am the poster boy for the case that interest or ability in art is not inherited, but spontaneous. I have not been able to find any instances in the last three generations of my family where anyone had any kind of artistic skills or interests . . . at least of the type prominent enough to have it be, if not a part of the way they made a living, enough that they were identified as having such. My great-grandfather played the “fiddle”, as he called it, but mainly just for fun. Some of my relatives could draw a little, but not to the point where they kept a sketchbook or had work hanging on other relative’s walls. There is always creativity in any family, but no examples in mine where I could say “I got this from uncle so-and-so”.

That said, I do think there is an “art gene” buried inside of everyone, and it is always active at some point when we are young. I am a big believer what Pablo Picasso meant when he said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” The creative spark is a little like a calling, you either continue to listen to it and follow it as you grow up, or you find other interests that mean more to you, and you let it slip away. I’m not saying there is a Picasso buried in everyone, and all they need to do is keep drawing to become a great artist, but the ability to speak creatively is inside all humans, and by nurturing it anyone can reach whatever artistic potential they have in them.

That brings me to my kids. Are they artistic? They are all very creative and artistic, but I am not convinced it is anything they inherited from me. It might just be that they were raised in an environment where art was all around them, and creativity was a central theme in their world. The three typical ones can all draw very well, but none of them have a great deal of interest in drawing. All their artistic interests lie in music and singing:

The Animated Elizabeth: My first born, Elizabeth is 22. She’s not just artistic, she’s also autistic. Elizabeth is a gift but also a challenge. We learned early on she loves music and we used it to help communicate with her. She loves to sing and her favorite thing is to watch kids music videos. Her love of music was nurtured when she was in school, and she was introduced to everything from The Beatles to classical music. She is not one of those high-functioning autistic kids who goes to college, plays the piano, and carries on meaningful conversations. She is one of those rocking back-and-forth, hand-flapping, humming loudly type of autistic kids. It is her interest in music that helped bring her out of her shell and allowed us to connect with her. She has a beautiful voice and carries a perfect tune when singing her songs.

The Dramatic Victoria: Victoria is 20 and a junior in a college in northern Minnesota known for their choir and music education. She has a powerful, classically-trained soprano voice and has been in top, well-regarded choirs all through high school and college. She has also performed with the Fargo Opera the last several seasons, and is currently a section leader in her college choir. She has performed in countless musical stage productions. She has gradually gravitating away from performing and is now concentrating on her greatest love: teaching. She is a natural teacher and has a double major in both music and general education. Her dream job is being an elementary school music teacher, where she can impart the love of music on other kids as it was given to her by a teacher she loved, but I hope she will always find time to perform, she is an exceptional singer.

The Effervescent Gabrielle: My youngest daughter at 18, Gabrielle is also a very talented singer, dancer and actress. The high school my kids attended is well known in Minnesota as one of the best theater and music schools in the state, and they put on major productions in the fall and spring, winning lots of awards. Gabrielle was an ever-present fixture in both the plays and musicals, as well as being in the major school choir. She is a freshman at an arts college in Chicago studying musical theater, and wants to pursue a career both on and behind the stage. She’s got the talent and determination to succeed in a tough field.

Number One Son Thomas: My youngest (16) and only boy, Tom is also a talented singer, actor and musician. Unlike his sisters, he’s pursued instrumental music as well as vocal, having begun playing the guitar fairly recently. He’s a junior at that same musical high school, and is getting major roles in both the plays and the upcoming fall musical, as well as being in two choirs. He’s still not sure what he intends to do as a living, but it’s a good bet music will be involved.

I could not be prouder of my kids, who are all smart, well-grounded, and talented young adults pursuing their hearts and dreams in fearless fashion.

Back to your original question: “Do you encourage or just wish one of your children would follow your footsteps as an illustrator regardless if they would make it as a career or not?”

Absolutely not. I only care that whatever it is they want to do, it is something they love and will make them happy. In that respect, I am a very lucky man, as I was able to parlay my love of drawing and art into a career. I only wish they them the same, no matter what they want to do.

Thanks to Martin Latupan for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Your wife says:

    Beautiful. I love you!

  2. Chesley White says:

    Excellent post, Tom. I’ve wondered about an “Art Gene” too over the years, but my conclusion is a little different- I’ve been building models my whole life (I’m 50) and learned only a few years ago that a distant uncle on my Mom’s side built the model ships that hung in Norwegian Churches. No kits in the 1800’s, all parts fabricated by hand. Also, I’ve been drawing since I could put a crayon to the wall, and although both my parents couldn’t draw a straight line to save their lives, my Grandfather (again on Mom’s side) was a fantastic artist- watercolors and Rosemaling were his favorites. So, while not every generation my get the “gene”, it seems to show up every other generation in my family. And, for the record, my kids really can’t draw that well- I’ll have to wait and see how talented the grandkids are-


  3. Lee Fortuna says:

    Very nice Tom! But always remember your children are a reflection of you and your beautiful wife! So don’t feel you both had nothing to do with those wonderful children and how they are turning out! Pat yourself’s on the back Tom & Anna because it’s all from your love, care & family values that the wee ones are who they are today. My wife & I are married nearly 22 years with 3 beautiful kids who we adore, and to sum it all up,….we all done good!

    • Tom says:

      I didn’t say we as parents had no part in thier development, creative or otherwise. I meant that I don’t think direct genetics had a lot to do with it. Parenting in another thing entirely.

  4. nunz says:

    Hi Tom,

    If your son just started playing guitar he should check out

    Justin Sandercoe’s spirit of generosity makes him the Tom Richmond of guitar lessons. Just as you share with your illustration tutorials, Justin believes everyone should enjoy the gift of music. His tutorials explaining the fingering, theory, different styles, etc. are incredibly well done. There are hundreds on his site and they are all free. It’s another oasis in the wild west of the internet.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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